I’m off to Oxford on Thursday. I shall make a day trip of it, and if the sun shines it will be very pleasant.
Getting to Oxford is not as easy as it might be. It is unlikely to cost less than 40 GBP in petrol. The Oxford City Council will meanly charge me another 20 GBP to park there. (Both charges are mainly tax, and seem to be levied out of spite rather than to fund necessary works; the latter, indeed, go undone). The actual journey from London is simple; straight up the M40.
Once there, my first stop will be to try to sell some academic books. For some time I have been weeding out books that I never use, and piling them into a heap. Most are patristic. There are 20-odd Sources Chretiennes volumes of Tertullian, all in mint condition. There are half a dozen Italian translations of his works also. There are also some classical texts, and one or two items such as “C.S.Lewis at the BBC”. I’ve just counted them, and there are 73. Such a lot of money spent… and on items that in truth I have hardly used!
Then I shall go onto the Bodleian. The medieval Greek commentaries made up of patristic quotes were largely printed in the 16th and 17th centuries, and are themselves hard to find now. They have one which I have never been able to access, and which contains some fragments of Eusebius. The Bodleian can be hard to deal with; I hope that they will supply me with reproductions of the pages without charging obscene prices.
I shall visit my old college, and go and sit in the gardens at a wall seat where Tolkien used to sit and where we sometimes had bible studies when I was there. It was 1983 when I left, and somehow this is more than 25 years ago! Those unlined young faces that I see in memory now have children of their own, and where are they all now, that jolly company? I remember sunlight in the gardens as if it was yesterday. I remember playing croquet on the lawn, all unawares that such things would come to an end and a life much less agreeable follow. I remember sitting in my room overlooking St. Albans Quad — how I remember that room! — and listening to voices rehearsing a production of the Wizard of Oz in the gardens; and playing Goodbye Yellow Brick Road on my HiFi, which I had obtained by pure coincidence at the same time.
I shall walk down the High street, and into Cornmarket. But however hard I look, I will not see the faces of friends; everyone will be a stranger. It will be like taking a time-machine to your own past; everything is the same as you remember, but you no longer belong. For we are all gone, the Grecians of my day, gone to other things, to pay bills and walk the treadmill of life. In the streets will be a new generation, as heedless as we; and they too will pass away as we have done. Sic transit gloria mundi.